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Archive for the ‘Bolivia’ Category

Bolivia, what a country, but what a history!

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

Bolivia – a land that is rich, but a history that has left the country worse for wear; the biggest and highest salt flat in the world Salar De Uyuni, the highest navigable lake in the world Lake Titicaca, the Alto Plano with nutrient soil and immense resources. Bolivia has more opportunity for tourism and agriculture than you could shake a stick at. But what a history! One could say they are not historically the best at making friends.

It is amazing the long term effects of war and the tone that it leaves in a country. Having cycled through Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao I have talked to people about the war-torn history of their countries. Although the war of the Pacific involving Bolivia, Peru and Chile was 100 years earlier than the very recent American war in Vietnam, the memory and resentment is very fresh in the minds of the Bolivians I have talked to. Often just saying “I have crossed the border from Chile to Bolivia” has been enough to bring up the resentment they feel inside.

Basically the story of recent war history went like this 1879-83.
1873 – Bolivia and Peru sign an agreement to their borders with each other and Chile without telling Chile.
1878 – Bolivia tries to raise tax on minerals after signing an agreement saying it would not do so for 25 years. Bolivia threatens to confiscate mined property from the Chileans if there is no compliance.
1879 Feb – Chile armed forces occupy Bolivian port of Antofagasta to protect their mining company.
1879 Feb – Bolivia declares war on Chile and asks Peru for help.
1879 April – Chile declares war on Bolivia and Peru.

Then basically the Chilean army hammered Bolivia and Peru. The Chilean army occupied a huge chunk of Bolivia from Antofagasta where the mining port was, all the way down to the Chilean border (effectively all Bolivia’s coast) without too much trouble and then invaded further up the coast into Peru and occupied Lima (the capital) for a time.

1883 – A treaty was signed between Peru and Chile giving Peru some of their land back.
1884 – A treaty was signed between Bolivia and Chile giving Chile ALL of Bolivia’s coast and the Atacama Desert which is very rich in minerals and triggered the initial dispute. Bolivia got a train line built for them by Chile from La Paz to Arica (which was previously Peruvian now Chilean) as compensation for all the land which was once Bolivian.

Bolivia not surprisingly was not happy being a landlocked country. Having no chance against Chile they tried to break out through the La Plata river system to the Atlantic coast on the other side of South America. Now they had a land dispute with Paraguay, and funded by American banks they went into what led to the Chaco War (1932-35). Ultimately Paraguay won taking land off Bolivia that was once Bolivian. A treaty was then signed giving Paraguay almost all the land they were fighting for and was mediated by Argentina who also made quite a bit financially out of the deal.

So Bolivia is left with much less land and loads of debt. As you can imagine there where a lot of pissed off Bolivians, not so much in the bigger touristy towns where people tend to get on with it, but in the small industrial towns like the one I am in now – that’s where the resentment lies.

A new prime minister has just been signed in – they tend to change frequently, and apparently a standard policy for each new prime minister to push is a determined demand and promise to retrieve the land lost to Chile in the war of the Pacific. There is no chance of this, and unfortunately not much chance for Bolivia as far as I can make out from talking to people, until they are led in the right direction.

I know it sounds cliche but there truly is not a day that goes by where I do not feel incredibly lucky to be born in the land of the long white cloud.

From Bolivia